Leeds prison installs x-ray body scanner to search for drugs and contraband hidden inside offenders

HMP Leeds is among ten prisons where a host of new measures are being introduced to improve performance.
HMP Leeds is among ten prisons where a host of new measures are being introduced to improve performance.

A new x-ray body scanner has been installed at HMP Leeds for staff to search offenders for drugs and other contraband concealed inside their bodies.

The Category B Men's Prison in Armley is the first of ten sites in Yorkshire, the Midlands and London described as being among the most challenging jails in the country, where the equipment is being installed.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart

According to the Ministry of Justice, the scanner will allow staff to search offenders on an intelligence-led basis. Evidence found on prisoners could be used to support disciplinary action or criminal prosecution.

It is hoped that it will help to break the cycle of violence that is fuelled by drugs and other illegal items, meaning prisoners can start the process of rehabilitation.

X-ray scanners at the other jails involved in the ‘10 Prisons Project’ will follow in the coming months and the Government says a range of other measures have already been introduced. A total of £3.3m has been allocated, with £10m set to be spent by the end of March.

The Leeds detectives solving crimes committed in city’s prisons

Others prisons in the scheme include HMP Wealstun near Wetherby, Lindholme and Moorland prisons in South Yorkshire, HMP Hull, HMP Humber and Ranby prison in North Nottinghamshire.

All 10 prisons have at least four metal-detecting wands in place and most of the prisons have trace detection machines that can be used to identify mail that might contain psychoactive substances.

Each prison now has a number of specialist staff and teams in place, including a drugs strategy manager, additional entry searching staff, and more dog handlers.

Last summer, it was revealed that the number of drugs including spice found by prison staff at HMP Leeds had rocketed over the last five years. In the 12 months to March 2018, 456 searches uncovered drugs - five times more than five years ago.

Drug finds in Leeds Prison rocket over five years

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart, who has staked his job on cutting violence and drug use in jails, said: "These 10 prisons are setting the way for a new approach, a new ethos and a new direction. I am pleased to see the progress being made, and I thank the governors and staff working tirelessly to improve their prisons.

"With enhanced physical security, a drive to improve decency, and more training and support for staff, the prisons are showing what a difference can be made on the wings. Ultimately, this will help to prevent further reoffending and keep the public safe."

Separately, a senior police officer has said he "strongly suspects" gangs are infiltrating the prison service with the intention of smuggling contraband into jails.

Assistant Chief Constable Jason Hogg, the National Police Chiefs' Council's lead on prison intelligence, said he fears organised criminals are getting their associates or family members jobs in the prison service with the intention of sneaking illegal items behind bars.

However he said it was difficult to prove, as previous cases where people working for the service have been caught with contraband had not led to links being exposed.

Mr Hogg told the BBC: "There are some examples of staff, very soon after they work in that prison estate, whether it's as a prison officer or a maintenance worker, if you like, they move towards supplying contraband."